Provide better benefits for school nurses — official

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Provide better benefits for school nurses — official

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Senior staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, August 02, 2020

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THERE is a call for school nurses to be afforded the same benefits as nurses in clinical settings to reduce the deficit of school nurses islandwide as institutions prepare to reopen amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The number of nurses in secondary schools have increased over the years, but a majority of primary institutions have none in place.

Carmen Johnson, president of the Nurses Association of Jamaica (NAJ) told the Jamaica Observer that the deficit has been a long-standing issue. However, the main problems are caused by the high attrition rate as well as the unattractive nature of the job of a school nurse.

“The school nurses are usually the level one and two nurses. The migration of our nurses affect them and you find that you don't have enough level one and two nurses around. Those who are around really don't have an interest in school nursing. While there is now a greater demand for more nurses in the school system, some of the benefits they could possibly get in the hospitals, they don't get it in schools. For some persons, they are clinically driven and so they like to be on the go and going,” Johnson said.

The NAJ president further explained that other compounding issues for school nurses include issues with accessing study leave.

“One of the issues I know they had was that they were not able to pursue post-basic [training] courses. The ministry would not permit them to have their study leave, and where they possibly could get it, for our in-service education unit, they had to pay for the course. We had started to address the paying for the course aspect in our last negotiation so they would be accorded the same privileges as those in primary and secondary care,” Johnson said. “But then it remains...because of the magnitude and the scope of work required to treat with the issues that arise in a school environment, you don't have many of them going into schools. They opt to migrate [and] the rest of us who remain, opt to stay in the clinical area where we can help to guide others and where you have the option of getting the late shifts to help to make up your salary to come home, as well as the benefits.”

Moreover, on Friday, University of the West Indies School of Nursing (UWISON) lecturer Antoinette Barton-Gooden, in a letter to the editor of the Observer, called for an expansion of the role of the school nurse and an increase in remuneration for the post in order to fill the deficit.

“The role has been restricted to primarily basic first aid and health promotional activities for students and staff in most cases. Based on the high volume of advertisements for the post in the press, I would assume there is a high turnover. It is possible that the meagre level two remuneration is deemed not to be commensurate for the position, also there is limited scope for mobility, thus making it an unattractive job for the professional nurse,” Barton-Gooden wrote.

The UWISON lecturer further outlined the mammoth task afforded to school nurses and called for a comprehensive review of the role, based on the enhanced training and skill sets that are required to promote health and well-being in schools.

She also said the salary should be increased to match this expanded role, which she proposed ought to be increased from a level two to a level three position.

“I hereby propose that the position be increased to level three, which is a nurse manager's post in the general hospital. These individuals are equipped with clinical skills, leadership and management skill sets that are transformational. School nurses would support the educational administrators in a dynamic way, to enhance the well-being of all school users. Such as empowering them with health information, health screening, disaster preparedness and management...I believe this would make the position more attractive and may reduce the deficit for school nurses islandwide,” Barton-Gooden said.

But, the NAJ president disagrees with shifting the position of the school nurse from level two to three.

“Look at the designation for school nurses. They really fall under occupational health and safety where you work in other organisations outside of a clinical area. You are not really an administrative person who goes there. You are a technical person who goes there to work in an administrative capacity. Level three is an administrative role. We encourage that school nurses have another speciality, preferably midwifery, since they have to deal with the sexual reproductive issues and they have to deal with young people and participate in the education of the young persons. We also suggest psychiatry, reason being, many of our younger populace tend to have emotional and psychological issues and challenges and so they would be better able to treat with those challenges they will come with. The NAJ has suggested they must be at a level two,” Johnson said.

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See related story on page 18


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